Thanksgiving: The holiday and the reality

One holiday in the United States that Jews happily and proudly celebrate is Thanksgiving.

When I first learned about this national observance years ago and its significance, I thought how nice it is to have a holiday that celebrates the diversity of a country’s citizens, but also recognizes the importance of building a common community. I don’t know if those in the U.S. can understand just how miraculous this concept is for a person living in Israel: that people with different religions can celebrate together the differences that exist between them, while honoring the nation that binds them.

My father, a long time educator, told me a few years ago that we need a holiday in Israel that can speak to all of our citizens, from all different backgrounds – Muslims, Christians, Palestinians, Circassians, Druze and Bedouins. We need a day when everyone joins together not for discussion of problems and challenges, discrimination and terrorism, but to acknowledge what binds us! A day when we all stop to celebrate our life together and to recognize the opportunity we have to build something very special here. No expectations during that one day for miracles or instant transformations, but rather a simple, genuine gathering to stimulate thought and emotions. Perhaps then, we’d truly process how we do have something here in this country worth celebrating together.

But then you remember the almost daily reality: the murder of Jews by terrorist fundamentalists – men, women and young people, with weapons, a car or a knife – whose only aim is to kill and sanctify his or her own death.

A terrorist murdered Ezra Schwartz last week. I had the privilege of knowing Ezra and so his death is particularly close to me and terribly painful. He was a charming young man who served as a counselor at Camp Yavne where I spent a month this summer with my family. He came to Israel for a year to learn and to volunteer, and he was killed as he slept on a bus on his way to offer food to soldiers and then make his way to the memorial of the three young men killed last summer. Also last week, a terrorist murdered Shmuel Ben-Hillel, an Israeli who was in Mali. I knew Shmuel — he taught me for a year — so his death also feels particularly painful. Shmuel was in Mali as a consultant to the Mali government in the field of education. In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, terrorists also murdered Hadar Buchris, Ziv Mizrahi, Reuven Aviram, Rabbi Aharon Yesiab, Yaakov Don and Shadi Arafa, a Palestinian.

This is our reality and, in truth, the reality of the entire free world. Terrorism is attempting to paralyze us, instill hatred and desecrate the name of God on earth.

So how do you celebrate diversity if terrorism makes us afraid of it?

By knowing that the average person just wishes to live his life in peace and to create a better future for his family. And together with God’s help, we in this wounded land, will also learn how to celebrate both what makes us different and our coexistence.

If not on a decreed holiday then, at least, in our day to day lives.

About the Author
A Masorti rabbi, Rabbi Yoav Ende is the Executive Director of the Hannaton Educational Center, located on Kibbutz Hannaton in the Lower Galilee.
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